Although it only gained its independence 51 years ago, Singapore now boasts one of the world’s most successful economic systems. It is one of the cleanest countries on earth, with some of the most employed, most educated, and now, healthiest citizens.
Yet, here in the U.S., despite a variety of recent health trends that have come to consume much of food culture, real, pervasive public health remains an illusive dream for a majority of the population. With recent reports projecting a 50% obesity rate by 2030, and obesity-related illnesses costing us an annual $190 billion, what can we stand to learn from the healthiest country in the world?
They Celebrate Health
As part of revamping the National Healthy Lifestyle Campaign, initiated in 1992, Singapore hosted a Healthy Lifestyle Festival in 2015, which reached an audience of over 80,000 people. The festival aimed to provide relevant lifestyle health information to individuals of all ages in an engaging and encouraging manner, as well as celebrate the successes of previously introduced health initiatives.
During the month-long festival, participants had the chance to have their BMI and vision checked, attend a variety of specialized health promotion presentations, engage in fun health learning activities and games, participate in group fitness sessions, attend (and taste-test) a number of “30-Minute Healthy and Tasty Cook-Off” competitions, and take home free goodie bags full of healthy snacks, coupons, health gear, and informational materials.
The demonstrations and activities were all aimed at presenting the ways in which a healthy lifestyle can be both attainable and rewarding.
They Invest in Public Health
Singapore prides itself on the successes and further ambitions of its direct initiatives to make healthy choices both enticing and easily accessible to all citizens. Under the HPB’s “Master Plan,” a number of programs have already begun to make an impact.
The Healthy Workplace Ecosystem at Mapletree Business City, for instance, has had great success in promoting healthy living to its tenants and occupants by forming active running groups and engaging over a thousand participants in a variety of organized physical activity sessions, as well as ensuring that over 90% of the business city’s food court stalls now offer healthier, 500 calorie meals.
HPB plans to extend the reach of its healthy lifestyle initiatives by partnering with businesses to make health screenings and health remediation programs accessible to staff members, in an effort to engage them in exercise programs to break repetitive movements and strengthen muscles. Customized education on incorporating healthy living into each individual’s daily routine will also be provided.
The successful health promotion model used at Mapletree Business City will soon be replicated in a number of other business centers throughout the country.
They Make Healthy Options Inviting
What comes to mind when you think of “healthy food?” Vegetables, soy, tasteless dishes, and restricting your favorite foods? It doesn’t come as a surprise that most health trends in the US remain just that: trends, to be abandoned as soon as you reach your weight loss goal or get tired of eating salad for every meal.
That’s why Singapore’s Health Promotion Board makes a point of demonstrating that switching to healthier options doesn’t have to mean giving up taste and satisfaction. We all love to eat out, and attempting to change these habits would never be productive, so instead, the HPB partnered with restaurants and hawker centers to come up with healthier menu options without compromising taste.
By providing food-sellers with free samples of healthier ingredients, the HPB encouraged experimentation, and worked closely with producers to create and test healthier recipes, all while understanding sellers’ concerns and providing them with the resources to overcome obstacles to change.
The HPB also worked with food sellers by providing initiatives to lower the prices of reduced-sugar food options to help stimulate demand and make healthier choices more accessible to consumers.
They Get Involved
We constantly hear all about the importance of exercise in a healthy lifestyle, but aside from being pointed toward the closest gym, there’s very little that we get in the way of encouragement. Singapore’s Health Promotion Board recognizes how difficult it can be to get started on an exercise plan, so it takes extra care to get everyone involved.
In 2013, the HPB launched its first Sundays@The Park initiative, which aimed to motivate community members to participate in free public exercise sessions, and was initially only held at just two locations. Since then, it has grown tremendously, and now takes place weekly at over 50 parks across the country, with nearly 20 free exercise types that participants can choose from.
By providing these professional instructor-led sessions free of charge and encouraging entire communities to participate together, Sundays@The Park have become a staple of community social life, allowing friends to catch up and new neighbors to get to know each other. The visibility of these groups gathering for exercise in community parks helps generate further interest and “normalize the concept of using available public space…for regular physical activity.”
So with all of these successful initiatives as our guide, what are we waiting for?